The Alaska Department of Fish and Game plans to start the King salmon season with no restrictions. That was announced at a Kuskowim River Salmon Management Working Group meeting in Bethel today. It was the first time the advisory group met in Bethel this season and the meeting lasted for four and a half hours. The first hour was spent going over the details of the state’s preseason forecast for Chinook or King salmon, which is very similar to last year. It projects a run of 160,000 to 240,000 fish. The escapement goal is between 65,000 and 120,000 fish.
Working Group members asked the state scientists if they are taking into consideration all factors such as the ocean, global warming, ocean acidification, bycatch, water levels, and other factors. Both state and federal biologists told the group that it’s extremely difficult to get all the ocean factors involved in projections with any accuracy.
Travis Elison, the state’s management biologist, unveiled the details of the department’s preseason management strategy. He says they are recommending beginning the season on the main stem of the river with no restrictions and will start them later if needed.
“If the run comes in below forecast, closures and or restrictions will be necessary,” Elison said.
He stressed that people should be prepared for restrictions like 6-inch net size limits and rolling closures. But, he says, if the state does implement closures, they would have at least one fishing period per week.
“It could be open for days or hours depending on the projected escapement,” Elison said.
The working group passed a motion supporting the wait-and-see approach and starting the season with no restrictions.
The state is also recommending to close all major salmon tributaries to King salmon subsistence fishing–like last year–from June 1 through July 25. Ellison says if the run comes in okay, they would lift the closures. The tributaries would include the Kwethluk, Kasigluk, Kisaralik, Tuluksak, George, and Aniak, as well as a portion of Kuskokquak slough and all of the old Kuskoquak.
A major sticking point for working group members was the plan for sports fishing to remain open for tributaries upriver, even when they would be closed to subsistence. This raised a heated debate by participants.
John Chythlook, who works for the state’s sports fishing, explained that it’s not their intention to have sport fishing open when subsistence is not. He says their hands are tied by regulations. He says they can’t close it now according to the preseason predictions.
The working group passed a motion NOT to accept the subsistence closures on the tributaries unless its also closed to sports fishing. Whether the sports fishing division can or will accept the recommendation is still unknown.
Several U.S. Fish and Wildlife workers were present and told the group that they have a federal subsistence priority within the refuge boundaries.
The next working group meeting is scheduled for June 11th but one could be called earlier by the Chair.